The future ownership of the land that will be de-mined is the main problem behind the debates on the draft law. The mine-clearing bid will not be subject to public procurement law. The Finance Ministry will decide on the bid. This means the ministry can offer the area to be de-mined to any company it likes
There is an important fact supporting that doubt: The mine-clearing bid will not be subject to public procurement laws, according to the draft. The Ministry of Finance will handle the bid by rules they will set. This means the ministry will offer the area to be de-mined to any company they like. We know from past examples that when the Justice and Development party, or AKP, brings a matter outside of the scope of the procurement law, they have some company in mind to take the bid.
Another factor that raises suspicion is the fairytale the Ministry of Defense came up with on the cost of mine clearing. To fully comprehend this fairytale, its stages of development need to be considered. The first idea the government had was to have the military clear the mines and allocate the land to the local population as it was cleared.
Why did the military give up?
The matter was discussed at the National Security Council and among the Cabinet, and the mine-clearing job was given to the land forces, who then set up a project office to start supplying de-mining equipment. The office was briefed by mine-clearing companies, and some de-mining equipment was tested at Mardin and Nusaybin in 2003. However, after wasting three years, the commandership decided to leave the job.
According to the Ministry of Defense, the military transferred the duty because they did not want to suffer any unnecessary loss of life with this job that would last at least five or six years and did not want to bother with extra problems on matters of maintenance, repairs, management and sustainability.
"There is at least one accident occurring with every 2,000 mines in mine-clearing jobs. This means 350 mine accidents on the Syrian border, but this is the number if experts work in the area. The casualties of military regiments should be expected to be higher," the Ministry of Defense said.
Most people were surprised when the military gave up on the job, but it is normal. Mine-clearing jobs are handled by professional companies with special equipment, not by military forces. An engineer officer said: "It is not appropriate for the armed forces to clear the area because this is not a job for young and reckless people. This is a job for mature and conscious personnel with constant concentration. Of course, the army is capable of handling it, but there will be too much loss of life; we may lose 1,000 to 4,000 people. Nobody can swallow that. A clearing done by professionals will reduce the loss of life considerably."
With the military out of the picture, the Ministry of Defense decided to open a bid for private mine-clearing companies. Almost all of the leading de-mining companies showed interest from all over the world: the United States, Azerbaijan, France, Croatia, Britain, Israel, Sweden, Russia and Turkey.
Defense Minister Vecdi Gönül made the following statement in Parliament a while ago: "We opened a bid for the whole area. Of course, I cannot declare the offers made for this bid since they are trade secrets but they were over billions of dollars. It was not possible for us to cover this from the ministry’s budget. Moreover, we lacked the technical expertise to bid on this."
There are four untrue points in this statement. One: No bid was opened. Two: There was no bid, but the companies were asked how much they would charge. Those answers are not trade secrets. According to the general understanding, the prices are no longer secrets after the envelopes are opened. That is why the envelopes for bids are mostly opened in the presence of the attendees, and the prices are declared. This is no different for mines. Three: "Billions of dollars" is not an issue. Some may offer "over billions of dollars" but there are standard prices for mine clearing anywhere in the world. That is $2-3 per square meter. The total cost for the Syrian border is around $500 million. This means $100 million annually and can easily be covered by the budget of the Ministry of Defense, which has the highest expenses of all. Four: The Ministry of Defense may not have the will or desire to open a bid, but lacking technical expertise is not an issue; the files of the ground forces has all the data needed.
Bid or presentation?
A British company that has been following the project closely and made a presentation to the Defense Ministry said: "There was no bid. We are even unaware of the size and the qualifications of the area. Some companies that showed interest in the matter were invited to the ministry to make presentations but that was not a bid." It appears the ministry’s statement is misleading the public and trying to cover up what has happened.